SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
May 07, 1979
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May 07, 1979


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A new study by Penn State's National Athletic Injury/ Illness Reporting System sounds deceptively like good news. NAIRS, which monitors injuries in organized sport, says it examined data on 16,090 college and high school football players from 1975 to 1977 and found 96 cases of "significant concussions." NAIRS deems this a low number and concludes that football helmets were performing "quite effectively."

The only trouble is that concussions are not the major concern with helmets. In John Underwood's series on football violence and injuries (SI, Aug. 14, 1978 et seq.), Dr. Donald Cooper, the team physician at Oklahoma State, was quoted as saying "There's nothing wrong with the helmet itself. Doing what it was intended to do—protecting the head—it performs adequately." Cooper went on to say that helmets actually protect the head too well, allowing it to be used as a battering ram. Thus the biggest risk to the wearer is neck and spine injuries, not concussions.

All of which is borne out by another recent study, this one by the University of Pennsylvania's Sports Medicine Center. As reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the study points to a dramatic increase in the number of players permanently paralyzed from the neck down. In 176 such cases from 1971 to 1977, a large majority of the victims were defensive players making tackles—most of them defensive backs. Dr. Joseph Torg, who headed the research team that conducted the study, attributes the increase to "playing techniques that use the top or crown of the helmet as the primary point of contact."

Worried that the financially strapped Orioles might be sold and moved elsewhere, Baltimore civic leaders have formed a "Keep the Orioles" committee whose main purpose is to persuade local businesses to buy season tickets. Lending its support, a chain of department stores, Hochschild's, has come out with T shirts bearing the legend DON'T LET THE BIRDS FLY AWAY. A store spokesman says that sales are strong, which is nice to hear. Suffering financial problems of its own, Hochschild's recently closed its big downtown store as an economy move. It also canceled its eight season tickets for Oriole games.


The U.S. Olympic Committee and NBC put on a 6�-hour telethon the other night during which Sammy Davis Jr., Glen Campbell, Joe Frazier, Milton Berle and dozens of other celebrities urged viewers to donate money in support of this country's Olympic effort. Given the worthiness they ascribed to the cause, one might have assumed that the notables who appeared on the program were doing so gratis. And, in fact, the show, called Olympathon '79, had been touted in ads. reading AMERICA'S GREATEST STARS GO TO BAT FOR YOUR TEAM.

All this made it slightly startling when actor Robert Conrad announced on the show that he was donating his $1,500 fee to Olympathon '79. His fee? It turned out that performers on Olympathon '79 were paid handsomely, a little secret that USOC Information Director Bob Paul tried to explain by saying, "I honestly don't see how we could have asked them to work for nothing."

Yet Olympathon '79 was the first telethon in memory on which performers didn't work for nothing. For whatever reasons, the show's producers didn't arrange to have the five major performing unions waive their usual pay requirements, something those unions routinely do for telethons and benefits through the Theater Authority, an office expressly set up for the purpose. Conrad wasn't the only one who saw fit to turn back his appearance money, which suggests that performers willing to work for free could have been found to begin with. At a time when ordinary Americans were being asked to be generous, the USOC's qualms about asking the same of entertainers are hard to understand. So are those misleading advertisements.


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